Read the following exchange between Senator Ludlam of The Greens and Mark Scott, Managing Director of the ABC at a Senate Estimates hearing on 27 October. It's classic fan dancing - on both sides. In the spirit of keeping it real, I've added the words behind the words, those that must have come to mind but never quite made it to the tongue, and those that never even got that far, in square brackets bold:
Senator Ludlam: Can you provide us with an update of whether the ABC has reconsidered its position [not to screen the Australian doco, Hope in a Slingshot,] and how you have gone about finding some other points of view to balance out the point of view in that documentary?
Mr Scott: We reviewed it and will not be showing it. I think when we first reviewed it there were questions as to the plurality of viewpoints, whether in fact it took a certain perspective [dared to portray Palestinians as human beings] and how under our editorial policies we would look to balance that [to nobble that] ... But it has been reviewed by our television division... I think finally the television division came to the view that it was not to the standard that they would want to acquire... They did not feel it was particularly compelling for the kinds of audiences that we would be seeking on ABC 1 [for the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) crowd], and that was the final judgment on it.
Senator Ludlam: But it was initially accepted. You said the issue was quality, so it was nothing to do with the political view? [nothing to do with portraying the Palestinians as human beings?]
Mr Scott:... I think finally they came to that view irrespective of editorial policy issues. That was not finally the driving force in their decision. They finally came to a view that they just did not think it was a particularly compelling film. [They finally came to a view that they couldn't afford to upset AIJAC.]
Senator Ludlam: Are you aware that the producers have updated and edited the film to address the interpretation that they believe have been placed on it?
Mr Scott: I am not sure which edit they have seen, but I understood that they did review the film again... and tried to look at it with a fresh set of eyes. We have some new people in key roles in our television division [people who know who must be appeased, and who can safely be ignored] - a new head of factual, a new controller of ABC1 and ABC2. I am not quite sure whether the final sign-off has come, but they have decided to pass...
Senator Ludlam: [But] this one caught our interest in particular because it was [initially] accepted.
Mr Scott: I understand that.
Senator Ludlam:... Step us through how you balance this out. You commission or acquire what you call opinion content, which does express a certain point of view.
Mr Scott: Yes, and we do run them. We have run Richard Dawkins... Dick Smith. I will explain what we often do, though, if it is contentious and opinionated - and there is a place for opinion on the ABC. It is allowed. It is in our editorial policies. You want to have some debate. So what you often do... is have a discussion afterwards... [However,] I think the feeling was that this film was not up to the standard for that kind of treatment. [I think the feeling was that, with this film, we would only be throwing fuel on the fire if we followed it with a discussion. I mean, take that bloody Israeli propaganda piece Murder on the Med (or Collision Course as we called it), the Foreign Correspondent website was deluged with anti-Israel comments for days afterwards. A discussion after Hope in a Slingshot would've gone the same way. We simply weren't prepared to risk it. Anything for a quiet life as they say.]
Senator Ludlam: Can you advise, then, how the program Death in the Med - or Collision Course, I think it is also called - satisfied your editorial policies?
Mr Scott: Which one, sorry? [Death in the Med? What Death in the Med?]
Senator Ludlam: Death in the Med... Was there a forum that followed that one?
Mr Scott: I am not sure - what was that one about? [Nothing. I know nothing.]
Senator Ludlam: I believe they rioted in the UK when it was screened because it was seen to be...
Mr Scott: We did have some complaints around that program. [Oh, that Death in the Med!]
Senator Ludlam: Was there a forum after that one?
Mr Scott: No, there was no forum after that.
Senator Ludlam: I struggle to understand how on the one hand you can run opinion content... and on the other you have got an impartiality requirement...
Mr Scott: [It's all coming back to me now.] That was the one that we received 90 alleged complaints of pro-Israel bias. Yes, now I remember.
Senator Ludlam: [What the f... !] Were they complaints, or alleged complaints?
Mr Scott: They were alleged complaints. [Look, tree hugger, it's really very simple. If the complaint is about Israeli propaganda, it's not really a complaint, just an alleged complaint... Well that's my story and I'm sticking to it.] But the program was viewed by audience consumer affairs, who advised that the program was balanced and that they believed those complaints were without basis... I think if we had come to an editorial judgment about that program, or our television or news division which is responsible for Foreign Correspondent had come to a view that this was opinion, rather than a topical and factual program or news program, then it would have needed a different treatment. That was not the judgment they came to about that program. It might be that some people who watched it have a different view, but that is the judgment of our television team and news team have had to make.